Routine trips to the grocery store in the age of COVID-19 have proven to be frustrating experiences for many shoppers who find themselves staring at dreary, empty shelves that have been picked without food.
Much has been reported in recent weeks about the scale of supply chain and labor issues that continue to plague food retailers at a time when the public relies more on these businesses than on the pass.
The Philadelphia area was fortunate last year to avoid large or frequent snowstorms, which lead to supermarket shopping even in normal times. Over the next few days, as Philadelphia braces for freezing temperatures and inclement weather that lasts through Monday, grocery stores and convenience stores across the region will likely see the challenge of keeping their shelves stocked compounded.
Alex Baloga, president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, links many industry issues to the difficulty of tracking changes in consumer behavior.
“Rising domestic consumption is having an effect on all of that,” Baloga said. “Year on year there has been an increase of just over 8% in grocery sales – overall supermarket sales. This is putting new strains on the system. On top of that you have the weather issue which further exacerbates the problem.Weather can have an effect on the products themselves.Products can be affected, obviously due to deep frost or weather related issues.
In the years before the pandemic, grocery stores typically had about 5-10% of their items out of stock at any given time. That came closer to 15% at the start of this year, Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, told USA Today.
The shortages have affected a wide range of products beyond produce, meat and dairy. Shoppers across the country struggled to find items like baby formula, pet food, cream cheese, international foods, foil, chicken tenders and craft beer – something Eagles fans should consider when preparing for Sunday’s big playoff game.
Baloga explained that consumers need to adopt a flexible mindset in supermarkets and be ready to make adjustments to their shopping lists. Even though the products are available, many stores are limiting the quantities customers can purchase, including some Philadelphia-area stores that have been doing so for a few months now.
“I think the main thing is patience,” Baloga said. “Patience, especially with associates working in stores and trying to stock product as quickly as possible. Don’t over buy. Keep to your normal shopping schedule. This will help a lot. You may not see exactly search, but there might be something else you could substitute.”
The shortages observed across the country are not necessarily the result of a lack of goods to bring to market. They are caused more by supply chain challenges in transportation logistics and labor, as well as scarcity of raw materials and packaging.
I think the main thing is patience. Patience, especially with associates who work in stores and try to stock product as quickly as possible. Don’t buy too much. Keep your normal shopping schedule.”
–Alex Baloga, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association
“The product is there – it’s getting to the store and onto the shelves,” Baloga said. “This is the problem.”
COVID-19 outbreaks and their overseas impacts continue to spread through the United States, beginning with the movement of imported goods inland from coastal ports. A long-standing shortage of truckers is slowing regional distribution and disrupting inventory and retailer workflow.
Increased consumer demand is pushing the problem to the extreme for grocery stores that have too few workers to handle it.
“You need to update processes and procedures to deal with the influx of customers and orders and online click-and-collect, with delivery and everything else,” Baloga said. “You have to be able to have enough people to operate, and do it as safely and efficiently as possible. It’s not enough to put people in place.”
A spokesperson for Giant, one of the region’s biggest supermarket chains, said customers should be prepared for possible shortages this weekend and in the weeks to come, especially when the snow is on. planned. Historical demand for groceries is only part of the problem.
“Many other factors such as persistent labor shortages, limited availability of raw materials, transportation and packaging constraints, and unpredictable weather events are beyond our control,” the spokesperson said. . “It is a fluid situation and we are monitoring it closely. We remain in close contact with our suppliers and strive to bring alternative products, but it is possible that customers find that a particular brand or variety is n is not available due to these challenges.”
In an earnings call this week, Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran, whose company owns Acme Markets locally, said the industry was doing its best to adapt.
“I think as a business we’ve all learned how to deal with it,” Sankaran said. “We’ve all learned to keep stores very presentable, to give consumers as much choice as possible.”
The weather forecast for the Philadelphia area calls for freezing temperatures through the weekend, with snow arriving late Sunday evening changing to sleet and then rain as temperatures rise in the early afternoon Monday. About an inch of snow is expected in the city and a bit more in the northern and western suburbs.
The Winter Storm timeline shows plenty of racing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning before the Eagles game.
Shoppers in the region are likely to see the effect of winter weather on stores as industry-wide challenges persist.
“I think the key is to understand that companies and retailers, their associates in particular, are working as hard and as fast as they can to get the product and deliver what people are looking for. It’s just a very difficult time and stimulating,” Baloga said.
It may take some time before this situation begins to improve.
“We can’t predict the future, but as best I think you can estimate, it’s going to continue at least in the short term,” Baloga said. “When it loosens up remains to be seen.”